Sadly this week marks the second fatality of a bike rider in Santa Monica this year (following the recent death of Antonio Cortez). This raises the Santa Monica traffic death toll to at least four that I am aware of in 2012, counting two prior pedestrian deaths this year.
Erin Galligan, a 30 year old woman and resident of Venice, was riding a bike southbound on PCH on 11 pm on Tuesday night. She was returning home from work as a waitress at the restaurant Maison Giraud, when she was fatally struck from behind by the driver of a white pickup truck. The driver did not stop. According to police accounts reported in the Palisadian Post, there is video footage of the truck dragging the bicycle with sparks seen flying from the 200 block to the 700 block of PCH. The driver of what has been described by police as a white-colored 1999 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, or other GM model, is still at large and last seen heading onto the 10 freeway. The vehicle would have significant frontal damage.
Santa Monica Patch has a profile of Erin. The Pennsylvania native moved to California because, in the words of a friend, she wanted to explore the world. Her adventure ended in tragedy weeks short of her 30th birthday and her best friend’s wedding.
There are witness accounts reported in the Santa Monica Daily Press that suggest Erin was riding in the far right lane and had moved over to the middle lane. Investigators are looking into why she may have done so if this was the case. Knowing what it’s like riding PCH, there could have been a variety of reasons, from potholes to construction, to broken glass or any number of regular obstacles that tend to get chucked into the far right lane, and this stretch is without a separate shoulder.
Not far before the point of impact is also an active sewer reconstruction project near Entrada Dr. that closes up to two lanes during evening hours. Ted Rogers of the blog BikingInLA references the sewer project in the context of this collision, and the problem of leaving bicyclists with a compromised PCH during construction and no lighting on the adjacent bike path. Due to a history of attacks against bicyclists on unlit paths with poor visibility from adjacent streets, some bike riders avoid places resembling the northern stretch of the beach bike path from Will Rogers State beach when riding alone at night.
Women especially are often apprehensive to ride through dark and isolated areas. Ted laments on his blog that one of the safety proposals he and several other advocates pitched to the LA Department of Public Works, of doing temporary bike path lighting during sewer construction, may have prevented this crash if it made riding the path more reassuring than being on PCH.
It is far from certain whether better bike path lighting might have been enough to prevent something like this from occurring, but this unfortunate tragedy certainly calls attention to how hostile it is for commuters that rely on a coastal route connection that either can’t drive or choose not to drive. The last buses that connect Malibu and the Palisades to Santa Monica and Venice don’t run late night service and have very sparse schedules.
Quite a lot of commentary around this story has focused on why would anyone ride on PCH at night in the first place, but for someone trying to get home from work in Malibu or the Palisades to Santa Monica or Venice, there are few options, and none are particularly ideal. Such callous views that immediately seek to burden all the blame onto the victim tend to come from those with no idea what it’s like to live life getting around without the privilege of driving everywhere and for every purpose.
Exactly how and why the collision initially occurred and how much that fault is attributable to either or both parties can only be speculated at this point. However one thing is absolutely certain, and that is that the driver failed their duty and obligation to stop and render aid. The driver carried Erin’s bike jammed into their vehicle for nearly half a mile. There would be absolutely no mistaking what had occurred. This driver knew they left someone for dead on the road, and made a choice to flee their responsibility. Should this person be captured they deserve to be treated as a killer, there is no excuse for leaving the scene.
Sadly we’ll likely hear more stories like this in the future, just as many more have preceded this deadly hit and run. The Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu, the Palisades and Santa Monica is poorly suited for the intensity and mixes of users that it serves, resulting in a never ending string of tragedies that occur on a regular basis, and that affect everyone, driver, pedestrian, transit user, and bike riders alike. A group of outraged mothers and Malibu residents that were sick of the frequent deaths, some of which have claimed the lives of young kids, started the group A Safer Pacific Coast Highway in 2010. Their fight to get engineering changes and tougher enforcement on PCH has resulted in a few changes, but it remains an uphill battle.
For the state highway engineers, a cold calculus is made that speed and throughput often supersede the value of human life in determing budget expenditures. Our politics push for that outcome, especially at the state level, and it’s a poor reflection on the values of our society, but it’s the truth. Until we demand a built environment and transportation network that is humane and capable of serving all users in relative safety, and are willing to make occasional comprises of space, speed and convenience for those who drive to do so, we can expect more lives to be needlessly cut short.
My thoughts go out to the friends and family of Erin Galligan, I cannot imagine the pain this loss has caused for those who knew her.
The details of this case are still under investigation, and in some instances the accounts I found contradicted certain details of other reports that were published. I’ve listed below all the sources of information concerning this case that I was aware of at the time of this writing and have done my best to string together events as well as a few of my own thoughts.
- CBS: Female Cyclist Killed In Hit-And-Run Accident On PCH In Santa Monica
- ABC: Woman riding bike killed in Santa Monica hit-and-run
- NBC4: Bicyclist Killed in Santa Monica PCH Hit-and-Run Crash Identified
- Patch: Venice Cyclist Killed in Santa Monica Hit-and-Run
- SMDP: Update: Cyclist killed in hit-and-run on PCH
- Palisadian Post: Cyclist Killed on PCH was Maison Giraud Employee
- Driving home the human loss, KTLA-5 reporter David Begnaud shared a smiling photograph he uncovered of Erin on twitter.
- Updated BikingInLA post
- Photos of a 1999 Chevy Silverado 1500 Xtra Cab pickup truck, believed to be the type of vehicle involved in the collision. It would have damage to the grill, hood and headlights. Reports described the color as white.